Paxton Pomykal & 2 Other Players The US Men's National Team Must Feature

In the aftermath of the Gold Cup final loss to Mexico, the U.S. men’s national team looks forward to the early days of the 2022 World Cup cycle, and more opportunity to coalesce the player pool and the evolving outline of a tactical system.

The Gold Cup provided a look at how a lineup close to the USA’s first team looks on the field in competitive play. Gregg Berhalter had a valuable three-week opportunity to sort out the squad’s strengths and weaknesses, and to evaluate the upper tier of the player pool. Losing in the final was disappointing, but the team made progress in the aggregate.

With a better idea of how the pool will fit together, we’re taking a look at some potential future contributors who did not play a role at the Gold Cup. These players may fill a gap or play a valuable position. We’re not including the obvious John Brooks, Tim Weah, Josh Sargent, DeAndre Yedlin, and Tyler Adams, who missed the tournament either due to injury, the U-20 World Cup, or coach’s decision.

Paxton Pomykal | FC Dallas

Pomykal could just as easily have started at the Gold Cup as the U-20 World Cup. He has been FC Dallas’ catalyst this season as a midfield connector and creator, and he made the MLS Team of the Week for the fourth time this season in Week 18. His vision and sense of the game is impressive at such a young age.

The dramatic improvement he’s shown this season has elevated him from “youngster with potential” to “top-tier MLS midfielder.” Pomykal is good enough now to walk into the U.S. lineup and be a part of a dream midfield trio alongside Adams and Weston McKennie. With Christian Pulisic on the wing, Pomykal can play in an advanced role and let Pulisic shoulder creative responsibility. Pomykal’s passing and movement helps take some responsibility off Pulisic. 

Playing Pomykal in the center of a 4-2-3-1-esque shape would be the ideal (and possibly final) test of Pulisic on the wing. Many think that Pulisic should play centrally long-term for the U.S., preventing him from being shuttered out of games the way he was in the second half against Mexico. With Pomykal in the lineup, the U.S. could add further creativity and attacking diversity without shifting Pulisic away from the flank. It is a worthy experiment.

Regardless of Pulisic’s positioning, Pomykal will be a major U.S. contributor. He is too good, and plays too valuable of a role, to linger on the sideline.

Sebastian Lletget | LA Galaxy

Injuries have robbed Lletget of major USMNT time. But he is a versatile midfielder who starts regularly (when healthy) for the Galaxy. As a No. 8, Lletget covers ground and makes late runs. He can be a workhorse as a winger, too, and act as a connector. 

There was a time that Lletget was a fairly regular starter. The U.S. certainly could have used him on October 10, 2017, when they lacked capable ball-winners in the midfield. He isn’t quite as high on the depth chart now, but he is a useful, versatile depth piece. Lletget would have been in the squad for the early June friendly against Jamaica had he not picked up a hamstring injury with the Galaxy. He should continue hanging around the midfield pool.

Miles Robinson | Atlanta United

The USA’s center-back depth chart consists of a clear top four right now: Brooks, Aaron Long, Walker Zimmerman, and Matt Miazga. Brooks may be the best of the group, but Long was mostly fantastic at the Gold Cup. Zimmerman started for most of the tournament alongside Long until Miazga replaced him for the semifinal. 

Beyond that four, players such as Omar Gonzalez and Cameron Carter-Vickers challenge. U-20 stud Chris Richards (of Bayern Munich) is a wild card — with a good club situation, he could insert himself into the starting discussion as soon as 2019. Robinson, who has been outstanding for Atlanta this year, could reasonably be considered fifth on the depth chart. He was on the 40-man Gold Cup provisional roster, and with more solid performances in Atlanta, he could contend for a start in October’s Nations League games against Cuba and Canada.

Harrison Hamm is a sportswriter who covers American soccer and MLS for FloFC. He also covers sports for FanSided and The Comeback, and has freelanced for the Washington Post.

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